Friday, September 7, 2012

Politics and this Blog

It probably hasn't escaped the attention of readers that my politics are a little left of center - with the typical meanings of "left" and "center" in current US politics.  This "leftiness" is greater on some issues (environment, social issues, civil rights), and much less so on others (education, wealth redistribution).  I have at various points been registered either Democrat or Independent.

So far, on the blog I have been pretty careful to avoid outright partisanship.  Partly this is a matter of personality: it comes more naturally to me to play the disinterested analyst role than the role of an activist and partisan.  At the same time, it's impossible not to notice that for the issues I most care about - climate, energy, environment, and future of society - the Democratic party (while far from perfect) is currently a lot better than the Republican party.  This is so overwhelmingly true at present that I don't feel a need to make an argument in detail: it's become so extreme that Republican politicians almost uniformly have to be delusional on climate change (or at least pretend to be).  Thus I've struggled with whether I'm being too coy in not taking an explicitly partisan position: actively urging readers to political action, or endorsing Democratic candidates, for example.

For now, at least, I have decided not to do that.  My reasoning is as follows: I think in the deepest part of its soul, what the Republican party is about is protecting the interests of the most economically successful members of society: hence the focus on lightening their taxation burden, reducing regulations that might impede their enterprises, promoting their right to pass their wealth to their children, etc.  I don't lack all sympathy for this agenda: I think the most economically successful people are particularly important to society at large and it is possible for a society to go too far in the direction of impeding them (though that is not my diagnosis of the main problem for the US in 2012).

And I note that climate change, drought, running low on energy or food (with the resulting instability, riots, etc) are not in the long-term interests of the wealthy either.  Wealth is a social construct that is entirely dependent on a reasonable degree of political and economic stability.  During times of disorder, the wealthy are at risk of losing everything they have gained, ranging from those families that lost the family fortune in the Great Depression - or the 90% marginal tax rates and high estate taxes that followed - to the extremes of the French Revolution when much of the elite were slaughtered in a genocidal frenzy.  I'm not aware of a single Roman Villa that evolved smoothly into a medieval manor.

So, if we are to have any hope of some kind of fairly orderly transition into a carbon-neutral sustainable society, at some point our millionaires and billionaires have to come to their senses and recognize that destabilizing key planetary systems on which we all depend is not going to do them and their children the slightest bit of good.  In fact, we need talented green entrepreneurs and investors to be brilliant and wildly successful perhaps more than we need any other single thing.

And so I want this blog to be a hospitable environment for successful individuals who can be persuaded that these problems are important and should be worked on.  And, at least for the time being, I think that is best served by continuing to avoid explicit partisanship.


Michael R said...

Noted, but history shows that political parties are most open to rethinking, reinvention, and change of course after a series of decisive defeats.

Because, more than anything, the apparatus of a political party is motivated by preservation of relevance. Until the Republican party apparatus sees climate change denialism as the path to irrelevance, the Republican party will continue to be unhelpful to efforts to save civilisation. The question is whether that will happen soon enough to be of any use, or not.

My guess is not. But the more they lose, and sooner, the better the odds.

yvesT said...

Good post

You shouldn't forbid yourself to talk about "policies" that you you think would be appropriate to "push" the technical infrastructure in a very broad sense in the right direction though, seems to me.

jemand said...

Do they even fully care whether or not their children get their wealth and power? There's so much of an individualistic "I pulled myself up entirely from my own bootstraps" that I'm not even sure the dynastic type thinking that would be necessary to provide a stabilizing force on wealth acquisition is really present...

If the only question is if they can maintain their power until their natural deaths... it seems that LOTS more can be completely destabilized than otherwise.

Nick G said...

I understand your logic, but I disagree.

I think it is important to make absolutely clear that you don't identify with one party (in other words, don't make it your ""tribe"). On the other hand, solutions to climate change are now purely in the political realm - individual change won't begin to cut it, and the facts are out there for anyone who's open to them.

So, the primary priority for concerned individuals now is no longer providing or learning good information or analysis, but
actually taking political action. That can include motivating others to action, or taking action oneself, such as persuading legislators. On the simplest level, it includes taking an inventory of one's representatives' views, telling them personally of your views (a nice handwritten letter or phone call), and sending some money.

King of the Road said...

I'm very troubled by the direction of the Republican party, with which I used to affiliate. No more.

I discussed it on my blog as well, but Democrats really are deeply involved with pushing the limits of what can be taken from productive people (and I don't mean only the wealthy, I mean anyone who's able to provide for his or her family) and using the booty to buy the votes of those to whom they deign to distribute it.

And those that they can't take from, they're happy to regulate out of existence, or make the subject of ludicrous litigation...

Anyone reading my blog will quickly see my disillusionment with those who now call themselves conservative (though "I don't think that word means what they think it means"). And certainly my position on resource conservation, energy usage, and global warming is clear and unambiguous. I even am willing to sacrifice some of my "small l libertarian" political philosophy. But I am objectively successful and am quite scared of the new ways of extracting wealth here in California and in US controlled by Democrats.

What's a scientifically oriented conservative to do?

Stephen said...

I think that Climate change is no longer a mater for Politics but a mater for survivalism. Once the Arctic circle is ice free and it will be soon, that will throw great instabilities into the rest of the climate particularly in th form of Arctic clathrates.

Voting for a party that says certain things is no guarantee they will do those things when elected. There is no longer any group of people with real power it is only the money that has power and uses politicians for its own ends.

Stuart Staniford said...


In terms of what is a conservative to do, in seems that currently any conservative leaders believing strongly in climate change are likely to be going through their wilderness years (just as Churchill went through his wilderness years in the thirties before being proven right about the threat of German rearmament). Identifying and supporting such figures may be one line of action. Bob Inglis comes to mind.

Stuart Staniford said...

Stephen: I certainly worry about that but I don't think anybody really knows. It's just too soon to tell - and having failed to predict the collapse in sea ice, it's not then terribly persuasive to assume that the climate models will then reliably be able to predict the consequences of it.

On methane specifically - so far the recent trend line is not particularly scary.

Seth said...

Stuart, I think you have the right idea about political debates here.

"... climate change, drought, running low on energy or food (with the resulting instability, riots, etc) are not in the long-term interests of the wealthy either."

We are a plutocracy, so our only hope of action is for the rich to reach some sort of consensus on what collective action is required.

My model is the TARP legislation in which there was strong elite consensus that dramatic action was required. It's actually fairly straightforward for Congress to act quickly when the rich know what they want and they agree that everybody else needs to shut up right this minute.

I doubt that the rich are ever going to get quite that scared about climate change, energy, etc. because the effects are diffuse. It will probably continue to appear to the rich that they can each individually arrange to avoid any negative consequences. Hence, the incumbent energy interests will predominate until they are replaced by newer energy interests based on sustainable alternatives (ie quite possibly never, or at any rate far too late, which is much the same thing.)

Hence my only personal hope is that the standard 'economist' argument proves true: the market will figure it out by pricing energy correctly soon enough to force timely action. Already very much in doubt, but then if I were confident I wouldn't need to talk about "hope", would I?

Stephen B. said...

Just to be clear, The Stephen above is not me, Stephen B., me being the person active in the blog discussion over the past few weeks.

Not that I agree or disagree with anything in particular above.

yvesT said...

From an external perspective, must say that the level of dialog (or more lack of it) about energy in the US is quite amazing, especially from a policy point of view.

Add to that that policies with respect to fossile fuels and climate change (burning less) are exactly the same (except stupidities such as CCS), and "branding" the efficiency policies almost exclusively on CO2 have for sure been a major mistake of the last 10 years or so : but quite understandable, the climate change message being indeed much easier to convey than the peak oil one (even if peak oil is much simpler conceptually).

But the result ? The huge majority of Americans do not even know they went through their oil production peak in 1971.

By the way, read yesterday the James Akins paper from 1973, probably one of the most important text regarding oil "diplomacy" :

(and a lot to be read in between the lines)

Overall quite amazing that the most common label for the first oil shock is still "the arab embargo" when the real label should be "US production peak oil shock"